The marauding masses of locusts that chomp their way across the north and east of the country each summer could be stopped if authorities took preventive measures rather than purely reacting to the problem when it arises each year, experts have said.
Last year locusts ravaged vast swathes of the country, forcing officials to spray expensive and damaging pesticides over millions of hectares of land. And this year they are back, with swarms reported in 14 provinces.
Liu Rongtang, a professor at Gansu Agricultural University, said there were inadequate preventive measures in place and the situation was only taken seriously when the locusts appeared.
'It's like mending the pen after the sheep has run away.'
He said the government should strengthen its forecasting systems and preventive measures.
'With a specific aim, the management of the problem would be more cost-effective and more efficient,' he said.
The common measures of controlling the pests include biological controls - using fungi or microbes - chemical controls using pesticides, and ecological management, which usually involves destroying the locust's breeding grounds.
More novel approaches have also been found to be successful. Last year, for example, the authorities in Xinjiang deployed hundreds of thousands of ducks to munch their way through the menace.
The 'duck soldiers' got fat on locusts and were later sold to restaurants.
Chen Jianqiong, who is in charge of Urumqi's plague control bureau, said it was important to improve the training for staff involved in predicting when swarms might arrive. 'They need much more expertise,' he said, 'particularly at the local level.'
He also said that it was essential to link environmental awareness to plague control. General pesticide, which can ruin farmland, costs 16 yuan per kg, while environmentally friendly pesticides cost up to 60 yuan. He said it was important that people realised the benefits of using the 'green' version.